Skip to main content

It seems there's nothing deadlier than the mail.

The Avengers
6.10: You’ll Catch Your Death

Jeremy Burnham’s first teleplay, originally titled Atishoo, Atishoo, All Fall Down, which might have given the impression that it’s zanier than it is (equally, it might have been used to more sinister effect, as nursery rhymes often are). There’s plenty of eccentricity in the supporting cast, though, which lifts this one considerably above the past couple of episodes.


Not least of the eccentrics is found in the arrival proper of Patrick Newell’s Mother, having previously been seen in the cobbled-together The Forget-Me-Knot. His location is suitably offbeat, filmed in one of Elstree’s concrete-lined water tanks, with ladders about the place as if to evoke some sort of art installation. He variously drinks (“Scotch?”), looks at Rhonda (Parker) through a telescope and answers telephones, warning Steed “Not that one unless you happen to speak fluent Swahili”. It does seem a bit of a stretch that they’re discussing a worldwide epidemic when only three ear, nose and throat specialists have died (there’d be patient victims too, surely), so it’s quite correct that he considers it “A disease that chooses its victims too carefully for my likening” and his wager that it’s not in any medical dictionary because “My nose is twitching” is accordingly quite reasonable.


Steed: Is this, by any chance, one of yours?
Maidwell: I’m afraid to say it is, sir. It is our Cream Wove brand.
Steed: Well, Cream Wove or not, a firm of your reputation... Tut-tut.
Maidwell: I am well aware of that, sir. I was saying to Mr Pew only the other day that we ought to discontinue it.
Steed: And Mr Pew disapproved?
Maidwell: It’s our big money maker, you see sir. Low cost so makes bulk-buying an attractive proposition.
Steed: Oh, it’s fairly common?
Maidwell: In every sense of the word, sir.

Indeed, Burnham seems to known, either intuitively or through studying the previous couple of seasons – probably the latter, since he'd already acted in three episodes, the first time in Season Four) that a progression of eccentric scenes (with Steed) is the ideal means to structure an episode, regardless of the actual plot. So our gentleman protagonist visits stationer Maidwell (Henry McGee), leading to a typically Avengers conversation pertaining to class, or the lack thereof, which leads him To the Anastasia Nursing Academy…


Steed: If one’s born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, one must see that it feeds as many people as possible.

Less eccentric conversation-wise is the Academy’s Matron (Sylvia Kay, of Aussie alchy drama Wake in Fright and… Just Good Friends). Well aside from Steed’s first sight of her, apparently half x-rayed (“Oh, Matron, good of you to see… Good to see you”). He introduces himself as forming a foundation “dedicated to the service of the sick”. Kay makes a formidable villain, if not the chief one, although one wonders why she and actual ringleader Glover (Fulton Mackay, 5.18: Return of the Cybernauts) should entrust their poisoning campaign to a couple of de rigueur tactless brutes (Dudley Lovejoy Sutton’s Dexter and Bette Bourne’s Preece, also of 4.25: A Sense of History, recalling, to a lesser degree, the psychotic thuggery in 5.3: The Bird Who Knew Too Much).


Steed: Comfortable?
Fawcett: No. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Steed: I frequently am.
Fawcett: Using curtains like those.
Steed: Oh, I rather like them.
Fawcett: Highly dangerous. 22.3% of all hay fever sufferers are allergic to velvet.
Steed is then visited by Dr Fawcett (Charles Lloyd Pack, 4.13: Silent Dust) of the Institute of Allergic Disease, who admonishes him for the state of his curtains. Steed comes across as pretty slack here, not even aware of Seaton’s death, and one can’t help thinking that if he hadn’t palmed the bodyguard bit off on Tara, taking the cushy interviewing of eccentrics himself, there’d have been less corpses. 


Colonel Timothy: Ever thought of going to Malaya?
Steed: Well, I…
Colonel Timothy: Don’t, dreadful place.

Contender for the acting chemistry award is Steed arriving to see Colonel Timothy (Ronald Culver), based on a clue found at the Academy. Culver’s superb as an – yes! – eccentric type who has been “infection prone since his return from Malaya” and has dedicated himself to finding a cure for the common cold (“The biggest mistake they made was to invade me”). Mother’s right to suggest Timothy isn’t the villain, but the source of the virus is nevertheless his research facility (an entrance to which is hidden behind a wall in his house). When he and Steed go to find Tara (“And what are we looking for?”: “A tall, attractive brunette”: “Who isn’t?”) they form an effective double act in overcoming the enemy, hitting them with their hats (“El Alamein all over again”) and proving adept at diversionary tactics. Nevertheless, it’s Valentine Dyall (the Black Guardian, City at the Edge of the World) whom Macnee bounces off most brightly.


Butler: Curiosity, sir, was responsible for the demise of the cat.
Steed: Heh. Not to worry. I have eight lives left.
Butler: My advice, sir, would be not to throw them away too easily.

Going by the previous episode, this unnamed butler ought to be the mastermind, particularly with “The Man in Black” playing him, but no. He’s just the butler. Asked to roll up his sleeve, Steed responds “What, fisticuffs?” and receives the response “No, antibiotic injection. Colonel’s orders. No visits permitted without one”. It is perhaps a little surprising, given the institute behind the wall, that there isn’t a complementary white coat or mask, though.


Steed: You know, that could be the nucleus for a nice nasty organisation.

The deadly letters in the post contain anthraxhighly concentrated cold virus (“Common cold virus powder manufactured to a fantastic enough strength to kill an elephant”), Glover’s rather attention-drawing plan being to “kill those in anti-allergy research who might present a threat” (who could produce an antidote). His reasoning? Rather prosaically, he just wants to be a very rich man. The Academy meanwhile, is revealed as an anti-nursing body (their induction strategy being to reject all honest candidates and take all dishonest ones), something of a throwaway element, as beyond the Matron nothing is really made of it.


Preece: We call it Oblivion – I think you’ll fall for it.

As mentioned, Tara singularly fails to protect surviving ear, nose and throat specialists on the list, although Seaton (Geoffrey Chater, 5.21: You have Just Been Murdered) proceeds to open a newly arrived letter immediately after she’s inspected his mail. She also succumbs to the aggressive attentions of Dexter and Preece, but puts up a good effort resisting them. Taken for questioning, and deep freezing, and testing, we learn she’s allergic to ragweed (“A rather plebeian allergy, Miss King”), but not caviar, oysters, champagne or quail, which is fortunate, hanging out with Steed. If her fighting skills earlier are formidable, it’s disappointing that Thorson overacts abominably when she receives a slapped face for biting Matron.


The climax is most notable for centring on the research facility’s prodigious nose-on-the-wall prop, down a nostril of which Steed rather ruthlessly empties one of the deadly envelopes on the fleeing Glover, before emerging, upside down, with a gleeful “Gesundheit”.


Tara: You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The coda is a disappointing return to the territory of innuendo-laden sugar daddy, as Steed succumbs to Tara’s cold while attempting to administer her Auntie Ermintrude’s patent cold remedy (“People might talk. And draw conclusions”). Which is a shame, as You’ll Catch Your Death is one of the few episodes in the season to this point that captures something of the Rigg era’s flair.









Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.